How Do You Say the Plural Form of 'Octopus'?

iStock.com/richcarey
iStock.com/richcarey

Few people have seen more than one octopus in the same place at the same time—they’re usually solitary creatures, after all—but let’s suppose you did. What would you call them? Octopi? Octopuses? Perhaps octopodes? People have been quibbling over the correct plural form of octopus for well over a century, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and it’s still a sore spot among word-lovers.

Quartz argues that only one way is grammatically correct—and it’s not octopi. Octopus stems from the Greek word oktopous, and technically, Greek words ending in -pus (like platypus) should be made plural by adding -podes (meaning feet) to the end. Latin words, on the other hand, are sometimes made plural with an -i ending—like stimuli and syllabi, for example.

Since the word octopus was originally Greek, it seems only logical that its plural form would be octopodes. Similarly, rhinoceros should become rhinocerotes, and stadium should become stadia. However, using these pretentious plural forms for the sake of grammatical purity would be absurd. Most words that enter English are pluralized according to the rules of English, rather than the rules of their “native form,” Merriam-Webster explains.

That leaves us with octopuses. Indeed, this form is perfectly correct, but some people still cringe when they say it. In the late 1800s, an article entitled “Octopus Philology” declared, “Some daring spirits with little Latin and less Greek rushed upon octopi; as for octopuses, a man would as soon think of swallowing one of the animals thus described as pronounce such a word at a respectable tea-table.” The article went on to recommend the use of octopods, which, fortunately, didn't stick.

However, both Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary list octopi as an acceptable plural alongside octopuses. (Octopi is also a valid Scrabble word.) As the dictionary advises, "If you're interested in choosing the word that is most likely to be considered correct and understandable by your audience you would do well to opt for either octopuses or octopi."

So next time, go easy on the internet stranger in the comments who has just written octopuses—they're not wrong.

[h/t Quartz]

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BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images
BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images

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Why Are Common Graves Called Potter’s Fields?

Graves in potter's fields are sometimes marked with blank headstones or crosses.
Graves in potter's fields are sometimes marked with blank headstones or crosses.
vyasphoto/iStock via Getty Images

For centuries, regions around the world have maintained common graves called potter’s fields, where they bury unidentified victims and impoverished citizens who couldn’t afford their own cemetery plots. The term potter’s field has been around for just as long.

The earliest known reference to a potter’s field is from the Gospel of Matthew, which historians believe was written sometime during the 1st century. In it, a remorseful Judas gives the 30 silver coins he was paid for betraying Jesus back to the high priests, who use it to purchase a “potter’s field” where they can bury foreigners. It’s been speculated that the priests chose land from a potter either because it had already been stripped of clay and couldn’t be used for farming, or because its existing holes and ditches made it a particularly good place for graves. But Matthew doesn’t go into detail, and as the Grammarphobia Blog points out, there’s no evidence to prove that the original potter’s field was ever actually used for its clay resources—it could’ve just been a parcel of land owned by a potter.

Whatever the case, the term eventually caught on as English-language versions of the Bible made their way across the globe. In 1382, John Wycliffe translated it from Latin to Middle English, using the phrase “a feeld of a potter,” and William Tyndale’s 1526 Greek-to-English translation of the passage featured “a potters felde,” which was altered slightly to “potters field” in King James’s 1611 edition.

Around the same time, a new definition of potter was gaining popularity that had nothing to do with pottery—in the 16th century, people began using the word as a synonym for tramp or vagrant. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was first written in a 1525 Robin Hood tale, and William Wordsworth mentioned it in his 1798 poem “The Female Vagrant.” It’s likely that this sense of the word helped reinforce the idea that a potter’s field was intended for the graves of the unknown.

It’s also definitely not the only phrase we’ve borrowed from the Bible. From at your wit’s end to a fly in the ointment, here are 18 everyday expressions with holy origins.

[h/t Grammarphobia Blog]